One of my favorite sports quotes of all time is from a 1920’s baseball star named Roger Horsnby.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
It feels like forever ago that I watched painfully from below Harry the K’s as Ryan Howard made the last out of Game 5 in the NLDS vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. Ages ago that I walked out of CBP trying to figure out how a team that won 102 games in the regular season couldn’t score a single run in a decisive Game 5. So what have I been doing for the last 4 months? I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing; I’ve been staring out the window waiting for spring!
With two Grapefruit League games in the books it is safe to say that baseball is officially back! A lot has changed since 2011, and at the same time a lot has remained the same. Witnessing Raul Ibanez in a Skankees, I mean Yankees, uniform on Saturday was a sight for sore eyes. Despite a short but sweet 3 years in Philly Rauuuuulll become a favorite of mine and of many fans. He may not have been the youngest, the fastest, or the best but he was still a solid player and at times played very well. And he definitely may be the nicest man in baseball, next to Mike Sweeney. In his 3 seasons in Philly he drove in 260 runs and hit 70 HR’s, not bad at all. Hey after watching Pat Burrell move around in left, Raul looked like Ken Griffey Jr. out there.
Gone also are Brad Lidge, Wilson Valdez, Ryan Madson, and Roy Oswalt. But in come Laynce Nix, Ty Wiggington, Jim Thome, and arguably the best closer in the league Jonathan Papelbon. Not to mention the resigning of the longest tenured Phillie, team sparkplug and leader Jimmy Rollins. A move that I thought was essential to the Phillies off-season plans.
After winning 102 games, a franchise record, you wouldn’t think that there would be a need for change or revamping. But after a dismal finish to the season, offense is something that is a hot topic in Clearwater this spring.
Charlie and Jimmy have always had a father son type of relationship. Often you can catch the two chatting it up in the dugout during games. Charlie has always been adamant that this offense goes as Jimmy goes and he knows that it still holds true in 2012.
“I think he definitely carries that kind of weight on our team,” Manuel said. “When he’s playing good and he’s got it going … the guys who can move us are our energy guys. When Howard is hitting, of course, he can do it, but Rollins, Utley and Victorino, those are our energy guys.”
Injuries are something that have plagued Jimmy and hurt his production since his MVP season in 2007. But Charlie feels that Jimmy still has more in him, and I believe it too.
This spring has been focused on hitting. For a skipper that lives and breathes baseball it is something he feels he may have gotten away from and his players as well. That’s why bringing in a guy like Jim Thome was so important. Thome not only provides a good bat off the bench, he provides a great clubhouse guy who talks baseball. Charlie wants his guys to talk about hitting, to eat it, drink it, sleep it, and keep it at the forefront of conversation. He wants his players, especially his leadoff man, to be more selective, to take more pitches.
“We still like to play and we still like our at-bats, but ’07, ’08, ’09, those were our years where we had life and energy in the way we play the game, run hard, slide hard, things like that,” Manuel said. “I think that over the last couple years what’s happened, those same guys like to hit, believe me, they still like to win games, but they’ve kind of settled in. We can get back and make it exciting again.”
So with a revamped bench, a new closer, and a new approach to hitting a lot has changed since 2011. This team, despite its early exits in the last 3 seasons, is still poised and stacked to win another World Series title. I’ve been staring out the window long enough, spring is here!